The woman next to me wears a lime green cardigan over a white sari. It suits her copper complexion. Her hair is mostly black, white roots emerging just below the surface. She has two gold bands on each of her ring fingers, both left and right, and a gold chain around her neck. Her eyes are focused on the screen in front of her. She concentrates hard as the symbols flash fast before settling on a combination. She groans and looks over at me. “Terrible luck tonight,” she says. I smile at her and agree. I wonder how old she is. I wonder how she’ll get home later. Durban isn’t the safest city for older women or women in general really.
The casino is packed for a Sunday night. Maybe there’s some type of promotion going on. Or maybe it’s the place to be on Sunday nights now. The familiar metallic smell of coins against skin, smoke and disinfectant lingers in the air. I’m used to it. It’s almost comforting in some ways. I watch a middle aged white man a few machines away from me scowl at his screen, his meaty fingers wrapped tightly around a bottle of beer. He calls an attendant over and buys a pack of cigarettes. His brown button down and shorts look a size too small and he struggles to free his wallet. The attendant looks bored. Absent from the moment. Her uniform is navy blue and crisp. Her hair is braided and pinned neatly to the top of her head. Her skin is chocolate. I’m envious of how smooth it looks. The man finally hands her cash and she gives him an obligatory nod.
I like it in here although I feel that I’m not supposed to. As if I’m breaking some sort of decency law. I feel cocooned. Comfortable. It feels as though we’re all linked together by a shared secret. Each other’s people. I don’t know where I fit in the South Africa outside this building. I guess that’s the trade off when you decide to leave. The narrative of the country grows, changes and evolves. You’re left frantically trying to fill the void you’ve created every time your plane touches down, attempting to prove that you belong, trying to fit back into the you shaped hole you’ve left behind before you leave it behind again. But in here it doesn’t matter. In here, there is no South Africa. There are no borders or plane rides or continents.
In here there is no void. Just the shared understanding that this is temporary. Dreams fill the spaces between us. Money yet to be won is already spent. Cars are bought. Homes are built. Meals are had. Vacations are taken. Imaginations are sparked by the push of a button. What if I raise my bet? What if I walk away with the jackpot? Just another R100 and I’ll leave. In here, we all share in the magic of a young Jewish entrepreneur, ambitious dreams following him through African homelands and, eventually, across oceans. Sol Kerzner. The name has become familiar but still feels uncomfortable on my tongue. If he can give life to such splendour, why can’t you? But Mr. Kerzner was set for greatness long before he struck deals with kings. I guess that’s the part of the story people forget about. I don’t fault him though. He’s given the country a great service. Escapism dressed in modern technology and VIP treatment. Sexy temporary dreams.
An old man with dark skin and pepper and salt hair taps me on the shoulder. He is half balancing on a cane. His eyes are watery. “Excuse me, madam, but some change? No money left.” I have no change to give him and he waddles over to the next closest person. I watch him for a while. People look nervous and uncomfortable as he approaches. Bracing themselves for the dose of reality he brings. He is a reminder of just how temporary the dreams within these walls really are.